Charles Pittman, an All-American both athletically and academically in the late 1960s, filled 158 Willard Hall on Wednesday evening with a speech on his own success throughout life, sometimes in the face of long odds.
"Define yourself on your own terms," advised the former Penn State running back, "or let others define you."
Sponsored by AHANA and the College of Communications , the event drew about 25 students and faculty.
They listened to Pittman's story about forming his own reputation — he became "Charlie" to teammates, a moniker he did not choose, but one that he defended as it came to define his dominant on-field performance.
But after a two-year NFL career , former Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno told Charlie, "You have nothing left to prove in football. Get on with your life."
He moved to Erie and became the first black banking executive in Western Pennsylvani a, he said, drawing upon his education, a B.S. degree in business .
After his banking business went under, he took a publishing class where he was 10 years older than his fellow students, one that eventually led to his position as a senior vice president at Schurz Communications. At Schurz, Pittman oversees a number of newspapers across the United States.
"Mediocrity is self-inflicted, but greatness is self-bestowed," said Pittman, including this personal maxim among a series of inspirational quotes he aimed at audience members as his presentation came to a close.
He related a story about his own bullish confidence early in his freshman year, when he balked at his assigned number, 17.
"No one great wore No. 17," he said to laughter from the audience.
Instead, he chose No. 24, the number worn professionally by his idol, Lenny Moore — who wore it in reverse, No. 42, when he played at Penn State .
The story reflected the theme of Mr. Pittman's presentation, one of competence and confidence.
He learned it from his father, a quiet former baseball star who never made it to MLB in part because of segregation. When young Charles missed a low catch to send his youth baseball team to the championship, his father told him that there were "no excuses,” that no catch could be "too low" for him to make.
In football and afterward, "Charlie" worked hard to avoid being average and to build his reputation. After his business career started, his name changed again.
"I moved from Charlie to Charles," said Pittman, "from running back to executive."
Pittman encouraged students to develop their "wings," comparing their individual skills to the wing power of a bird sitting on a branch. The bird does not fear the branch breaking, said Pittman, because it knows it can fly. Likewise, a capable person can adapt to a sudden change.
"Life is good at breaking branches," he warned.
He finished his presentation by opening the floor to questions from his audience. Wary of the danger of financial ruin, he advised potential entrepreneurs to get on "solid ground" financially before taking the risk of starting their own company. But he conceded that in the right circumstances, entrepreneurship would be the right plan for capable individuals.
Dana Smith (senior-broadcast journalism) said she appreciated the presentation because it showed the success of football players outside of sports. She was pleased that Pittman broke the stereotype of student-athletes being unfocused on their academic pursuits.
"I am constantly learning," Pittman said.
Zack Green can be reached at (814) 865-1828.